Gothard Sisters Thrill Crowd with Contemporary Celtic Music

Wowing the crowd with their exceptional skills and lively music were the Gothard Sisters at Saturday night's Calais Celtic Concert performance. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson


The cafeteria of Calais Middle-High School was thrumming with musical energy on Saturday night as a trio of ethereally graceful sisters demonstrated their exceptional skills to a large audience from both sides of the border. This is the third time the Gothard Sisters have performed here as part of the Calais Celtic Series, and if the audience has their way, it won’t be the last.

Throughout the evening, the sisters provided an impressive performance complemented by an array of instruments and traditional Irish step dancing. A variety of percussive instruments produced a steady stream of beats while fiddles, an acoustic guitar, a flute, and a mandolin added constant variety to each song. The audience was thoroughly captivated, demonstrating their appreciation with cheers that became increasingly supportive as the night went on.

Songs that were played included traditional melodies such as Toss the Feathers, the Raglan Road ballad – a “wonderful, amazing, but slightly awful song” about a man who loved a woman that did not love him back – and an encore performance of Scarborough Fair following a standing ovation. The sisters also played their own songs, including three reels about coffee and hummingbird, during which a series of lightly plucked strings brought the sensation of little wings fluttering in the air.

At one point, the sisters engaged the audience with some classic storytelling about Finn McCool, the famed giant of Ireland, and he and his wife Una’s outwitting of Scottish giant Benandonner following the building of the Giant’s Causeway. After the causeway was built, Benandonner, who was twice Finn’s size, came over to defeat him. Una told Finn to hide in the baby’s crib, and she proceeded to make two items: a ball of butter, covered in ash to look like a stone, and two loaves of bread, one of which had a frying pan baked inside. After Benandonner broke his teeth on the bread and failed to squeeze water from a stone – even as the “baby” easily crushed the “stone” made from butter into goo – he fled back across the bridge. The telling was punctuated with musical accompaniment, to the delight of the crowd.

The sisters – Greta, Willow, and Solana – are natives of Washington that became ardent fans of Celtic music at a very young age. Speaking to the crowd, the sisters described how they grew up listening to NPR’s Thistle and Shamrock show. They began learning instruments themselves when they reached age 5, and have since performed well over a thousand shows around the world. Their abilities have been well-acclaimed, with the Irish Music Awards naming them as the Best New Irish Artist in 2014.

“I love watching them dance,” shared Anne Perry during the intermission. She has seen the sisters play each time they have come to Calais. When she can, she comes to the other Calais Celtic Concerts as well. “I try to come to all of these. They’re wonderful. I just love live performances.”

The Calais Celtic Concerts are the primary option for live music throughout much of the year in Calais, with the increasingly well-connected organizers bringing in more and more musicians that have played in venues of amazing sizes. Calais’s location on the border with New Brunswick enables it to attract acts that are on their way to perform elsewhere in the country, meaning that Calais is the site of debuts for some overseas-based artists.

All of the funds raised by the Calais Celtic Concerts are put toward scholarships for students of Calais High School and Woodland High School, with more than $4,000 having been raised in the years since the series began seven years ago. More than 100 shows have been arranged thus far.

Presenting a donation to Randy Morrison to purchase new stage curtains is Tom MacDonald. The donation combines $250 from the Calais Celtic Concerts with $250 from the Knights of Columbus. (Photo by Lura Jackson)